Schools that have never made the NCAA Tournament — the 2013 edition

Updated: The 2016 edition

Now updated: the 2015 edition

Previous entries on this subject:  The 2012 edition   The 2011 edition   The 2010 edition

We’ve survived the month of February, which means March Madness is right around the corner. Conference tourney time will be here before you know it. So will a longstanding tradition, that of watching as schools fail once again to reach their first NCAA tournament.

There are 30 schools that have been in Division I for at least a decade that haven’t yet made a trip to the Big Dance. Of course, it is perhaps not as crushing for fans of UC Riverside (D1 since 2002) to fail to reach the promised land as it is for supporters of Northwestern, or St. Francis-NY, or Maine, all of which have been wandering in the no-tourney wilderness for far too long.

Can any of those schools finally make their big debut? That’s the subject of this post. I’ll be honest, however — the answer is probably going to be no. I started posting about this in 2010. At that time, I highlighted the 20 schools that had waited the longest for their first NCAA bid. It’s now 2013, and 19 of those schools are still waiting. The twentieth, Centenary, has given up the ghost and is no longer in Division I.

This year I’m expanding the list of featured teams to 30 — in other words, the 30 schools that have the most years in Division I with no NCAA appearances. There are actually around 52 schools (give or take a transitional member or two) currently in D-1 that have never made the Big Dance, but I’m only highlighting those schools that have been in the division for more than 10 years without receiving a bid. For schools like Presbyterian or Kennesaw State, the angst level just isn’t high enough (yet).

Before I delve into the hopes and dreams of those 30 schools, though, I want to mention a few schools that have actually made the NCAA tourney, but haven’t been back in a long, long time. Their fans are suffering, too.

Last year, Harvard won the Ivy League for the first time in its history, and advanced to its first NCAA tournament since 1946. That ended the longest drought for a school that had previously appeared in the event at least once. It’s a distinction that now falls to fellow Ivy leaguer Dartmouth, which actually appeared in the title game twice during the 1940s but hasn’t been back to the tournament since 1959.

Dartmouth won’t be back this year either, and neither will fellow Ivy League schools Yale (no NCAAs since 1962), Columbia (1968), or Brown (1986). That’s what happens when a league is dominated for over 40 years by two teams (Penn and Princeton).

This is the 50th anniversary of Tennessee Tech’s second, and last, trip to the NCAAs. The Golden Eagles had the misfortune of opening up their 1963 tournament against eventual national champ Loyola of Chicago, losing 111-42. Ouch. Speaking of the Ramblers, they haven’t been back to the NCAAs themselves since 1985.

Other schools that have made at least one NCAA trip but haven’t been back since 1993 (or earlier) while continuously in D-1: Bowling Green (no appearances since 1968), Rice (1970), VMI (1977), Duquesne (1977), Furman (1980), Toledo (1980), Mercer (1985), Jacksonville (1986), Marshall (1987), Idaho State (1987), Marist (1987), Middle Tennessee State (1989), Oregon State (1990), Loyola Marymount (1990), Idaho (1990), Towson (1991), Northeastern (1991), St. Francis-PA (1991), Rutgers (1991), Howard (1992), Georgia Southern (1992), La Salle (1992), Campbell (1992), Fordham (1992), Coastal Carolina (1993), East Carolina (1993), and SMU (1993).

Note: Seattle (a finalist in 1958, but which last made the NCAAs in 1969) and Houston Baptist (made the tourney in 1984) both left D-1 and then later returned, so they haven’t been in the division for all the years after making their most recent NCAA tourney appearances.

Some of these teams have notable accomplishments in tournament play. Jacksonville played in the 1970 championship game. Loyola Marymount made the Elite 8 in 1990 in one of the more famous runs in the tournament’s history, but hasn’t been back since. Another school that made the Elite 8 in its most recent NCAA trip: VMI, a fact that might surprise some people.

All in all, it’s an interesting list. Of the teams on it, probably Middle Tennessee State and Mercer have the best chance of making it back to the Big Dance this season. MTSU is the only one of the teams listed with even a prayer of getting an at-large bid. Until recently, I didn’t think the Blue Raiders had a realistic shot at one, but now I think it’s possible.

Among schools in BCS conferences, Oregon State is currently suffering through the longest drought, not counting Northwestern. Speaking of the Wildcats, it’s time to talk about the schools that have never made the tournament. As always, we start with The Forgotten Five.

All records are through March 4

The NCAA Tournament began in 1939. In 1948, the NCAA reorganized itself, and established separate divisions (university and college) for its member institutions. Of the schools that since 1948 have continuously been in what we now call Division I, there are five which have never made the tournament field. All five of those schools theoretically could have been in the tournament beginning in 1939, so for them the wait is actually longer than their history as official members of Division I.

The five schools are known as the “Forgotten Five”. The class  of 1948 (or 1939, depending on how you look at it):

– Northwestern: NU actually hosted the very first NCAA championship game back in 1939. That year there was an eight-team tournament, and the concept of a “Final Four” had not yet taken hold. The first two rounds of the tournament were played in Philadelphia and San Francisco, with the final between Oregon and Ohio State taking place in Evanston.

This year, the Big 10 is generally considered to be the best hoops conference in the land, with as many as eight teams possibly making the NCAA tournament. Alas, Northwestern (13-16) is currently in 11th place in the league. Like every school on this list, the Wildcats’ only chance at an NCAA bid is to win the conference tournament.

– Army: It actually hasn’t been that bad a season on the hardwood for the Bulldogs of the Hudson. Army is 8-6 in Patriot League play (15-14 overall), but winning the conference tournament would likely require victories over both Lehigh and Bucknell. That would be a tall order.

– St. Francis-NY: Things are not looking good for the Terriers, as St. Francis (12-17) barely qualified for the NEC tournament, winning a de facto play-in game against Sacred Heart for the eighth and final spot in the league tourney.

St. Francis is actually the oldest collegiate basketball program in New York City, having fielded teams since 1896. Its most prominent hoops alum is probably the late James Luisi, a former NBA player better known for his work as an actor.

– William & Mary: While probably capable of pulling off an upset in the CAA tournament, it’s hard to see W&M running the table. The Tribe (13-16) is much improved from last season, but not quite ready yet to finally grab the brass ring. Jon Stewart will probably have to wait at least one more year to celebrate his alma mater’s initial appearance in the Big Dance.

– The Citadel: Ugh. This was supposed to be a year of improvement, after a freshman-laden team struggled mightily in 2011-12. Instead, the Bulldogs have struggled mightily in 2012-13 as well. The Citadel (8-21) has one of the Southern Conference’s best players in Mike Groselle, but that hasn’t been nearly enough for a program suffering through its third consecutive season of 20+ losses. My alma mater will not have its name called on Selection Sunday.

That’s the Forgotten Five. Next year, they are almost certainly still going to be the Forgotten Five. What about the other never-beens on our list?

Well, the odds aren’t too good for most of them.

– New Hampshire (began Division I play in 1962): The Wildcats finished the regular season in a tie for 7th place in the America East. At 9-19, UNH has actually lowered its alltime winning percentage this season, not an easy thing to do.

– Maine (also from the class of 1962): 11-18 overall, 6th-best in the America East. Maine may be good enough to win a game in the AE tournament, but that’s about it for the Black Bears. Time to focus on hockey.

– Denver (D-1 from 1948 to 1980, then back to the division in 1999): at 19-8 overall, and currently in second place in the WAC, the Pioneers have a decent chance to finally break through this year. Denver, which has won 15 of its last 16 games, runs a “Princeton-style” offense; the Pioneers are 346th out of 347 D-1 teams in pace of play. Interestingly, the team that is last nationally in that category is also on our list…and like Denver, has also had a fine season.

– UT-Pan American (class of 1969): UTPA has been gradually improving over the last couple of years, but the Broncs (15-15) will have to wait at least one more year for a shot at the NCAAs, as their conference (the Great West) doesn’t have an automatic bid. Next year, UTPA will join the WAC, which should be a boon for the program.

– Stetson (class of 1972): As I mentioned last year, the Hatters’ most famous hoops alum is Ted Cassidy, the actor who so memorably played Lurch on The Addams Family. Stetson (14-15) has had a bounce-back season of sorts in 2012-13, and could conceivably be a factor in what should be a competitive Atlantic Sun tournament.

– UC Irvine (class of 1978): This season, the Anteaters are a middle-of-the-pack team in the Big West, with Long Beach State favored to win the league’s automatic bid. However, I wouldn’t put it past UCI (17-13) to make some noise in the conference tournament, particularly with consensus Afro All-American Mike “The Beast” Wilder on the scene. Zot! Zot! Zot!

– Grambling State (class of 1978): Oh, mercy. Grambling is winless this year (0-27), and arguably one of the worst D-1 teams of the modern era (if not the worst), thanks to scholarship reductions caused by APR issues. GSU has not lost a game by fewer than 10 points. The Tigers will have one more chance to win a game this season, in the first round of the SWAC tournament.

– Maryland-Eastern Shore (D-1 in 1974-75, then back to the division for good in 1982): UMES lost its first 13 games this season and currently sports a 2-24 record.

UMES doesn’t have a football program any more (despite a gridiron alumni list that includes Art Shell, Emerson Boozer, Carl Hairston, Johnny Sample, and Clarence Clemons). Sometimes you have to wonder if the basketball program is worth having. This will be the 11th consecutive season the Hawks have lost 20 or more games.

– Youngstown State (D-1 in 1948, then returning to the division in 1982): The Penguins are a respectable 16-14, solidly in the middle of the Horizon League standings. Butler is no longer in the league, but Valparaiso and Detroit remain, and the combination of those two will make it difficult for YSU to win the league tournament.

– Bethune-Cookman (class of 1981): B-C is 12-18 overall, 7-8 in the MEAC. As usual, the league tournament schedule is an enigma, but it likely won’t matter for the Wildcats this year. It’s hard to see Bethune-Cookman outlasting Norfolk State and North Carolina Central (among others) in the MEAC tourney.

Props to the MEAC, though, for getting Aretha Franklin as the star of its tournament kickoff concert.

– Western Illinois (class of 1982): Here is the other master of slowdown play. The Leathernecks average only 58.3 possessions per game, fewest in the country. WIU is 21-7 overall, tied for first in the Summit League, and one of four teams in that league expected to contend for the conference tourney title. Two years ago, Western Illinois was the only team to lose to Centenary; the Leathernecks have come a long way since then. Will this finally be the year?

– Chicago State (class of 1985): Chicago State is 8-20, and plays in the no-bid Great West. Like UTPA, though, Chicago State is moving to the WAC, so there is hope for a future bid. Not this year, though.

– Hartford (class of 1985): The Hawks are a very decent 17-12. Perhaps alum Dionne Warwick can get one of her psychic friends to tell us whether Hartford will win the America East tournament. If not, expect even more anguished tweeting from Charleston (SC) sportscaster Kevin Bilodeau, a notorious Hartford apologist.

– UMKC (class of 1988): The Kangaroos are 8-23 and will barely qualify for the Summit League tournament, much to the displeasure of noted alum Edie McClurg. Maybe things will be better once UMKC moves to its new conference, the WAC. If you’re keeping track, that makes three schools on this list moving to the WAC.

Give the WAC your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…

– Buffalo (D-1 from 1974-77, then back to the division in 1992): After some excruciating close calls a few years back, the Bulls haven’t really been in serious contention in the MAC for the last two years. Buffalo is only 12-17 this season and clearly the road to the league title goes through Akron or Ohio U (though the Bulls just whipped the Zips).

– Sacramento State (class of 1992): It doesn’t look like this will be the year for the 13-13 Hornets. Tom Hanks’ alma mater has to compete against Big Sky heavyweights Montana and Weber State for the league’s automatic bid (and is in danger of not qualifying for the conference tournament). Incidentally, Sacramento State plays its home games at Colberg Court, which to my knowledge is the only D-1 gym named after a women’s volleyball coach.

– UT-Martin (class of 1993): In 2008-09, the Skyhawks won the regular-season OVC title, thanks in large part to Lester Hudson. However, UTM got beat in the tourney final by Morehead State and missed out on an NCAA tournament bid. Since then, UT-Martin has lost 20+ games in every season. At 9-20 so far this year, that trend will continue.

– Cal Poly (class of 1995): John Madden’s alma mater is 15-12 overall, 10-6 in the Big West, a slight improvement over last season. Like fellow never-been UCI, the Mustangs would have to get past Long Beach State (and Pacific) to win the league tourney.

– Jacksonville State (class of 1996): The Gamecocks are currently in fourth place in the OVC East, despite a solid 17-11 overall record. Even if they were 28-0, however, they wouldn’t be NCAA-bound, as Jacksonville State is banned from postseason play due to APR problems.

– Quinnipiac (class of 1999): The Bobcats’ biggest obstacle to garnering a first-ever NCAA bid has been Robert Morris, which beat Quinnipiac in the 2010 NEC title game (52-50) and in the 2009 and 2011 semifinals (the latter by a 64-62 score). This season, the Bobcats are 15-15 overall, and tied for fifth place in the NEC with an 11-7 league mark.

One of these years, Quinnipiac is going to win that league tourney. It will probably happen sooner rather than later.

– Elon (class of 2000): With an 20-10 record, Elon is enjoying its finest season since joining D-1. To throw a team party on Selection Sunday, however, Elon will have to get past Davidson and the College of Charleston in the SoCon tourney. It’s not completely out of the question.

– High Point (class of 2000): The Panthers finished first in the Big South North (heh) division with a 12-4 league record. High Point is 17-12 overall and is one of several schools capable of winning what should be a wild league tournament. Unfortunately, High Point’s chances were reduced considerably when leading scorer John Brown broke a bone in his foot.

High Point basketball has some interesting alums, including Tubby Smith, Gene Littles, and Joe Forte (the former ACC and NBA referee).

– Sacred Heart (class of 2000): The Pioneers finished the season 9-20 overall, with a 7-11 record in NEC play. Sacred Heart lost its last seven games, missing out on the NEC tournament.

Irrelevant factoid alert: despite having only around 4200 undergraduates, Sacred Heart has 31 varsity sports teams. The man who will soon be in charge of those teams: none other than Bobby Valentine.

– Stony Brook (class of 2000): After its baseball team went all the way to Omaha and the College World Series, it’s now the basketball team’s turn. The Seawolves (23-6) won the America East by three games and will be favored to win the league tournament.

– UC Riverside (class of 2002): At the beginning of this post, I wrote that it probably isn’t crushing for UCR fans that the Highlanders haven’t made the NCAAs yet, since they’ve only been in D-1 since 2002. That doesn’t mean they haven’t suffered, though. UCR is currently 6-23, in last place in the Big West, and barred from postseason play after not meeting APR requirements. Oh, and there was this game.

Well, that’s this year’s roll call. Thirty teams with a dream. Will any of those dreams come true this year? Normally, I would say no, because that’s usually the case — but this year, I’m betting at least one of these schools finally makes it. Denver, Western Illinois, and Stony Brook appear to be the top contenders.

I hope it happens. One of my favorite memories of “Championship Week” came in 2008, when American University finally qualified for the NCAA tournament. AU had been in D-1 since 1967. The head coach of the Eagles, Jeff Jones, cried in his chair on the bench after the game.

That is just another reason the committee shouldn’t expand the tournament (and why it should revert back to a 64-team field and get rid of the play-in games, which lessen the experience for automatic qualifiers). It’s an accomplishment to make the tournament. It means something. It should continue to mean something.

This year, at least, it will.

2011 Football Game 8: The Citadel vs. VMI

The Citadel vs. VMI, also known as “The Military Classic of the South”, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 29.  The game will not be televised. There will be a webcast on Bulldog Insider (subscription service), and the game can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network, with “Voice of the Bulldogs” Danny Reed calling the action alongside analyst Walt Nadzak.  The two teams will battle for the coveted Silver Shako, universally regarded as the greatest trophy in all of sports.

I’ve actually written multiple posts on The Citadel’s football team this week. It’s the first time in a while I’ve done that. I reviewed the Western Carolina game, and also threw in my two cents on where the corps of cadets should be placed at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

Now it’s time for the long-awaited resumption of the Cadets vs. Keydets clash. I’m looking forward to this matchup, in part because the Bulldogs have a good chance of winning, but perhaps more so because I think it’s a shame the rivalry had to take a break in the first place. Be forewarned; I’m going to spend most of this post writing about VMI.

The fact the matchup has not taken place since 2007 is a direct result of VMI leaving the Southern Conference following the 2002 football season, which affected the ability of both schools to schedule the game. VMI had been a member of the league since 1924, so we’re not talking about a TCU situation here. Why did the school move to the Big South?

From a Jeff Hartsell article in The Post and Courier:

When VMI left the SoCon after the 2002 season, school officials claimed scheduling flexibility as one reason for the move. The Keydets were locked into eight league games in the SoCon; at the time, the Big South played only four conference games (it’s up to six games and seven teams now, including Stony Brook, which is in New York).

But there’s no doubt football futility played a role in the decision. In the six seasons before their departure, the Keydets were 4-43 in the SoCon, including three 0-8 records and two 1-7 marks, for a winning percentage of .085.

Let’s dig into this a little deeper. First, an aside: you know VMI fans (not to mention the school administration) wince when they see a headline like that one (“Nine years after VMI retreated from SoCon, Bulldogs hold fast”). Ouch.

The Keydets had occasionally slogged through tough stretches in their history on the gridiron prior to their modern-day struggles. For example, from 1968-1971 VMI compiled a cumulative record of 3-39 (in the 1969 season, the average score of a VMI game was Opposition 41, Keydets 8). The first three of those seasons came under the tutelage of Vito Ragazzo. He was replaced in 1971 by Bob Thalman, who gradually rebuilt the program after first enduring a 1-10 campaign in 1971.

Thalman was still the coach in 1981, when the Keydets went 6-3-1. For those of you reading this who don’t know, that is the last time VMI had a winning season in football. That’s right. This year the Keydets (currently 1-6) will suffer their 30th consecutive non-winning campaign. VMI has had two .500 seasons in that span, going 6-6 in 2002 and 2003 under Cal McCombs, a graduate of The Citadel.

McCombs followed up those two years (the last season in the SoCon and the first in the Big South, respectively) by going 0-11 in 2004. After a 3-8 season in 2005, he was done as the VMI coach.

That 0-11 season in 2004 is one of two winless campaigns at the Institute since 1981. Ted Cain’s 1997 squad also went 0-11. Cain was the coach at VMI for two seasons, winning one solitary game (against Lenoir-Rhyne).

With the exception of current coach Sparky Woods, every coach at VMI since 1981 has suffered through at least one winless or one-win season. Thalman was 1-9 in his final season in charge (1984). Eddie Williamson had a 1-10 ledger in 1987. Jim Schuck (a former Army assistant who was hoped to be VMI’s version of his contemporary Charlie Taaffe) went 1-10 in his final season, 1993. His replacement, Bill Stewart (later to win a BCS bowl game at West Virginia) would field a 1-10 squad the following year.

After Cain’s two seasons (the final game of the 1998 campaign was coached by AD Donny White), McCombs would coach VMI for six years, with two 1-10 seasons to go along with that 0-11 finish in 2004. Jim Reid, who had previously been the head coach at Massachusetts and Richmond,  followed McCombs, posting records of 1-10 and 2-9 before leaving to go to the Miami Dolphins (shades of John Zernhelt). He is now the defensive coordinator at Virginia.

Speaking of Donny White, who coached that one game in 1998, he is still the director of athletics at VMI. In the Hartsell article, he had this to say about scheduling:

Fewer league games have helped VMI rekindle rivalries with teams in Virginia like Richmond and William & Mary, but it hasn’t done much for the bottom line. Overall, VMI has a 21-69 record since leaving the SoCon, the highwater mark a 6-6 record in 2003.

“To be fair, I haven’t done a good job of taking advantage of that flexibility,” White said. “With more flexibility, you try to schedule more appropriately for your team, so our non-conference record should have improved. But I haven’t done a good job with that.”

Well, he probably hasn’t. On the other hand, there is a reason he is still the AD at VMI despite the football team’s struggles. It seems clear that White, despite his comments, has been hamstrung a bit in his efforts to make the schedule easier.

The Big South, as mentioned in the article, now has seven teams, so that is six league games for VMI per season. In non-league play, VMI has played William & Mary every season since World War II save one (2009). The Keydets have not beaten the Tribe since 1985, and few of the contests in recent years have been close. Richmond has been an almost yearly opponent as well, but since joining the Big South VMI is 0-9 against the Spiders, allowing on average almost 40 points per contest.

Richmond and William & Mary are traditional rivals for the Keydets (they in fact are the two schools VMI has played most often in its history), but the fact is that right now both of them are on a tier well above VMI in terms of on-field competitiveness. Between playing both of them almost every year, along with a “money” game or two (VMI played both Virginia and Army last season), it makes it hard to schedule “gimme” victories for the squad.

This year VMI’s only game against an FBS team is Akron. I can’t imagine the Keydets got a large check for that one (though I have read that check may have been at least as big, if not bigger, than one for playing Army would have been).

In a way, it is easy to see what VMI’s administration was thinking when it elected to leave the SoCon. Richmond and William & Mary had already left the league. There were some schools still in the conference with which VMI could identify (like The Citadel and Furman), but there were other institutions with which VMI had no shared history, larger state schools that the Keydets seemingly were never going to be able to successfully compete against on the field. Georgia Southern entered the SoCon in 1993. The Eagles and Keydets met ten times. GSU won all ten games by an average score of 47-6.

By the late 1990s it seemed to be getting worse for VMI, which was losing badly every year to the likes of GSU, Appalachian State, and Chattanooga. I wouldn’t be surprised if a particular stretch in 1999 may have cast the die when it came to leaving the league. VMI was 1-10 that season, winless in the league. Starting in late September, this is how things went for the Institute: Furman leveled the Keydets 58-0. The following week, Georgia Southern traveled to Lexington and blasted VMI 62-0. The week after that, Wofford crushed the Keydets 55-10. Then Chattanooga shut out VMI 27-0.

After a non-league game against William & Mary, VMI would lose 40-2 to Western Carolina and 34-7 to App State. Even the near-miss that was the season finale (a 7-6 loss to The Citadel) wouldn’t have come close to easing the pain of that season, or perhaps the sense that VMI could no longer compete in the Southern Conference.

The problem, of course, is that recruiting to play in the Big South is not the same as recruiting for the SoCon, something the administration at VMI may not have fully realized. It may be that the VMI brass thought the school would continue recruiting the same type of athlete regardless of what league VMI called home, but that’s not the way it works.

In addition, several teams in the Big South have started to show major aspirations when it comes to football, and VMI is again faced with the problem of competing against schools with different standards (because they have different missions) and more resources. VMI is 2-7 against Coastal Carolina since joining the Big South, and 1-8 versus Liberty since joining the conference. It’s likely that competing against those schools will continue to be an uphill climb for the Keydets.

VMI is also winless against Stony Brook since the Seawolves joined the league for football. I’m guessing that most VMI alums don’t know anything about Stony Brook except that it beat their alma mater 42-14 last week.

I think the long losing streak has surely cost VMI victories in individual seasons, as there is no reservoir of winning built up in the program. What the folks in Lexington need to do, more than anything, is come up with a winning season to get the proverbial monkey off their back. As such, VMI should schedule accordingly. At least three “gimme” or “near gimme” games should be scheduled, preferably early in the season in order to build confidence.

Then, with hard work and a little luck, three victories in league play would give VMI that 6-5 record and end the skid. In other words, play Lock Haven and Chowan and schools like that on a regular basis in non-conference games.

The Citadel has suffered because of a long losing run of its own, only broken by the 7-4 season in 2007. When it comes to breaking a run of losing that has lasted for a generation and a half, VMI’s difficulties are exponentially greater.

I was at the 2002 contest referenced in Jeff Hartsell’s story. It was easily the most miserable I have been at a football game, and that had nothing to do with the outcome. That game was the first of two matchups between VMI and The Citadel played in Charlotte at ancient Memorial Stadium, an interesting idea for promoting the series that definitely did not work out.

The problem was that the weather was beyond awful that day, and the field at the stadium was simply not up to par, to put it mildly. The end result was that the two teams played in a sea of mud while the supporters who actually made it to the stadium were being absolutely pelted by near-freezing rain. It was just a mess.

I’ve still got my program from that game. It is, shall we say, weatherbeaten. For the record, the 2002 game was technically a VMI home game, so the program is actually “Keydet Gameday” with VMI defensive back DeAngello Plather on the cover. It’s probably not a collector’s item.

The weather was much better for the 1980 contest at Johnson Hagood Stadium, a tour de force by Stump Mitchell. I still remember a long touchdown run in which several different VMI players were left with pieces of his jersey (they wore tearaways back then) while Mitchell galloped down the sideline, shoulder pads rhythmically bouncing as he ran.

VMI and The Citadel will be meeting later in the season over the next few years. Next year’s game in Lexington is tentatively scheduled for November 10. The game in 2013 is slated to be played November 16.

VMI will also play Navy in 2012.

Sparky Woods is the coach at VMI. It’s his fourth season in Lexington. When he was hired I thought it was a quality move for VMI, and I still do. He’s a good coach. People sometimes forget that he did a nice job at Appalachian State, which is what led to him getting the South Carolina job.

He got the gig with the Gamecocks after Joe Morrison died. I remember when Woods was first formally introduced to a South Carolina crowd; it was at the 1989 basketball game between The Citadel and South Carolina, at Frank McGuire Arena. Gamecock officials literally rolled a red carpet (it may have been garnet) to center court and led him out for a quick wave-and-leave moment. The crowd stood and gave him a standing ovation.

Of course, that night the Bulldogs beat the Gamecocks on the hardwood for the first time since 1943. Perhaps it was an omen for his worst moment as the football coach at South Carolina, the 38-35 loss to The Citadel in 1990…

This is going to be yet another game in which neither The Citadel nor its opponent is known for committing penalties. The Bulldogs have the fewest penalties (and penalty yardage) in FCS football. VMI is tied for seventh in fewest penalty yards. Amazingly, the Keydets have played four teams in the top six in this category — The Citadel, Richmond, William & Mary, and Charleston Southern (CSU being the lone victory on VMI’s schedule to date).

VMI has struggled on offense all season. It ranks very low in the FCS in several offensive categories, including total offense (112th), pass efficiency (113th), and scoring offense (115th).

Starting quarterback Eric Kordenbreck has thrown four touchdown passes while being intercepted seven times. He has only completed 48% of his passes. His backup, Adam Morgan, has posted good numbers in limited duty. I wouldn’t be surprised if he played against The Citadel.

VMI is only averaging 3.4 yards per rushing attempt. Chaz Jones is a redshirt senior who has received the bulk of the carries for the Keydets. He has seven rushing touchdowns. Jones also has thirteen pass receptions.

Another redshirt senior, Tracy Hairston, is VMI’s primary receiving threat, leading the team in receptions. He is also the Keydets’ regular kick returner.

Defensively, the Keydets are allowing slightly over 30 points per game, although that is partly a result of the problems on offense (including a time of possession differential of over five minutes versus its opponents). The one area VMI is weakest on defense, pass efficiency, is not exactly a strength for The Citadel. VMI has only intercepted one pass all season, which doesn’t help its turnover margin (-8).

Opponents are averaging a shade over 175 yards per game on the ground against the Keydets. The goal of Triple O’Higgins for the game on Saturday should be to try to double that total, at the very least.

VMI’s two top defensive players are linebacker A.J. Gross and strong safety Byron Allen, both of whom were pre-season all-league picks in the Big South. Unfortunately for the Keydets, promising defensive back Demetrius Phillips left school earlier this week.

VMI’s numbers in the punt game are not good, a major issue for a team as offensively challenged as the Keydets. VMI is not winning the battle of field position in most of its games. The Keydets have had three punts blocked this season. I bet Domonic Jones is interested in that statistic.

Last week, I called the Western Carolina game a “must-win” game for the Bulldogs, and they won it. This Saturday’s game against VMI is also a “must-win”, and not just because it’s a rivalry game.

It’s a game The Citadel is expected to win. There really aren’t a whole lot of games like that on the Bulldogs’ schedule in any given year, and when there are, the team must take full advantage.

Having said that, I don’t think it’s going to be easy. VMI is not a good team, but it’s a team that is going to play hard throughout. It will match The Citadel in that respect in a way that few other squads do.

Also, a win over The Citadel would make VMI’s season. The Bulldogs in the past have struggled with some very poor VMI teams; it’s important that The Citadel does exactly what it did last week in Cullowhee, namely start strong and not let up. The longer VMI stays in the game, the more the Keydets will start to believe they can win it.

Bobby Ross will be at Johnson Hagood on Saturday, having the honors at the pregame coin toss. I think that’s really cool.

I’ll be in the stadium too. I want to see the coveted Silver Shako in person again, and I want to see The Citadel retain the precious trophy for another year. It’s important.

Schools that have never made the NCAA Tournament — the 2011 Edition

Updated: The 2016 edition

Now updated: the 2015 edition

Editor’s note: this post is from 2011. For the 2014 update, click here.

For the 2013 update, click here.

For the 2012 update, click here.

It’s conference tourney time, and that means it’s time to see if there is a chance that a longtime D-1 school with no NCAA tournament history will finally get its moment in the sun.

Last year I wrote about the twenty schools with the most years in Division I basketball without an NCAA tournament appearance.  There are other schools out there that have gone a long time waiting for a return invitation, like Harvard (which participated in the 1946 tournament) or Rice (which has made four tourney appearances, but none since 1970).

However, I’m only discussing those schools with no NCAA D-1 tourney history.  At least Harvard and Rice (and Dartmouth and Columbia, two other longtime absentees) have played in the event.  Imagine rooting for a team that has never been to the Big Dance, even before it was called the “Big Dance”.  Unfortunately, I don’t have to imagine it…

Last year I briefly outlined the chances of each of the twenty longest-waiting schools finally breaking through.  Alas, none of them did, so it’s the same group of twenty this season.  I guarantee the list will change next year, though, but only because this is going to be Centenary’s last season as a Division I school. (After this year’s tournament is over, UMKC will be the next school on the clock, unless the Kangaroos pull a stunner in the upcoming Summit League tourney.)

As always, the evaluation starts with the Forgotten Five (the five schools that have never made the NCAAs despite being members of Division I since the modern re-classification of the division in 1948).  Records listed are as of February 28:

— Northwestern:  At the beginning of the season, there was a buzz that this might be the year the Wildcats made it.  Instead, Northwestern is 16-12 and currently sits in ninth place in the Big 10.  It’s not going to happen this year.

— Army:  The Bulldogs of the Hudson have lost 18 games and are in last place in the Patriot League.  Things do not look promising.

— St. Francis (NY):  The Terriers have a winning record (15-14) and finished the regular season in fifth place in the NEC.  It’s been one of SFC’s better campaigns in recent years.  It’s unlikely the Terriers make a run in the league tourney, but it’s worth keeping a half-closed eye on the team.

— William & Mary:  With 21 losses and in next-to-last place in the CAA (behind only woeful Towson), I think the Tribe is going to have to wait another season.  William & Mary was a lot more competitive in the previous two years, but its window of opportunity for making the NCAAs appears to have closed, at least for now.

— The Citadel:  There were hopes prior to the season that the Bulldogs could make some noise in the SoCon.  Instead, new coach Chuck Driesell has presided over what is arguably the most disappointing season in school history.  Now, The Citadel has to win four straight games in the league tournament.  What are the chances of that happening?  Not good.

St. Francis looks like the best hope out of the Forgotten Five, but that’s mostly by default.  What about the rest of the schools in our group of 20?

— Centenary (NCAA Division I member since 1960):  Sadly, Centenary finished its five-decade run in D-1 with no NCAA tournament appearances.  The school is moving to Division III next season.  The Gents were 1-29 this year, with the sole win coming in the next-to-last game of the season.  There will be no Summit League tournament, so Robert Parish’s alma mater is done in D-1.

— New Hampshire (class of 1962):  The Wildcats, 12-17 overall, finished seventh in the America East after losing their last three games.  UNH is 344th in the country in field goal percentage, just additional evidence that suggests New Hampshire is not a team capable of springing a big surprise in the AE tournament.

— Maine (class of 1962):  The Black Bears may have peaked too early.  Maine won seven straight games in the month of January.  Then the team lost six straight in February.  The Black Bears are 15-14 and finished third in the America East.  It’s not inconceivable Maine could make a post-season run, but a big change in momentum would be required.

— Denver (D-1 from 1948 to 1980, then back to the division in 1999):  The Pioneers are 13-16 overall but did manage a winning record in the Sun Belt (9-7).  Denver has to rebound better to have any chance of running the table in the league tourney, though; the Pioneers are last in all of D-1 in rebounds per game (23.9).

— UT-Pan American (class of 1969):  The Broncs are 5-23 and finished last in the Great West, a conference that doesn’t even have an automatic bid.  So much for that.

— Stetson (class of 1972):  The Hatters lost 12 of their last 14 games to finish 8-23 overall.  Stetson failed to qualify for the Atlantic Sun tournament, so the dream is dead for another year.

— UC Irvine (class of 1978):  UCI is only 13-17 overall, but has won its last two games, both in double overtime.  The Anteaters feature Mike Wilder, a first team Afro All-American.  I could see UCI doing some damage in the Big West tourney.  Whether it’s capable of doing three games worth of damage is another question.

— Grambling State (class of 1978):  Hey, Doug Williams is back as head football coach again!  Good thing, too, because at 8-19, the basketball team isn’t getting a lot of positive press.  On the other hand, the Tigers do play in the SWAC, so winning the league tourney can’t be completely ruled out.

— Maryland-Eastern Shore (D-1 in 1974 and 1975, and then for good in 1982):  The Hawks are 7-21 overall and tied for last in the MEAC.  This isn’t going to be the year.

— Youngstown State (D-1 in 1948, back again in 1982):  The Penguins have lost 20 games and are tied for last in the Horizon League.  This isn’t going to be the year.

— Bethune-Cookman (class of 1981):  Whoa, a team in first place in its league?!  The Wildcats, currently 18-11, have in fact clinched the MEAC regular season title.  B-C did lose its sole meeting with Todd Bozeman’s Morgan State squad, but at the very worst an NIT bid is in the cards…and look — that’s Cy McClairen driving the bandwagon!  (Why not, he did everything else at the school.)

— Western Illinois (class of 1982):  I think the season for the Leathernecks can be summed up in eight words: “this is the team that lost to Centenary.”  Like the Gents, WIU did not qualify for the Summit League tournament.

— Chicago State (class of 1985):  Earlier in this post I noted that UT-Pan American is 5-23 and plays in the Great West, a league without an automatic bid.  The difference between Chicago State and UTPA?  The Cougars are 6-23.

— Hartford (class of 1985):  The Hawks contributed one of the season’s worst box scores in a loss to Stony Brook.  Hartford isn’t quite that bad, and actually beat Stony Brook in the rematch.  However, a team that can’t shoot (bottom 10 nationally) or rebound (bottom 50 nationally) probably isn’t going to shock the world in the league tournament.

— Buffalo (class of 1985):  The Bulls have just missed making the NCAAs a couple of times in recent years.  Buffalo is currently 16-11 with two MAC league games left before conference tourney play begins.  The Bulls likely will have to win four games in the MAC tourney, which is a tall order, but there isn’t a dominant team in the league, so you never know.

It looks like Bethune-Cookman has by far the best shot of making the big show out of the twenty schools.  Maine, Buffalo, and possibly St. Francis have not completely unreasonable chances.  For the rest, the chances are slim and none, like they are most every year.

Someday, though, that moment of triumph will come.  Uh…right?

Review: Georgia Southern

Well, that game was a debacle…and when I say it was a debacle, I mean just that.  IT. WAS. A. DEBACLE.

Nine turnovers.  Nine.  Let’s look at some facts about this game:

— Nine turnovers in a game, as you may have guessed, is a school record for The Citadel.

— Among the many amazing things about the game, the Bulldogs committed nine turnovers while running only 47 plays from scrimmage.

— The Citadel committed four turnovers in nine passing attempts (three interceptions, one fumble) and five turnovers on 38 rushing plays (all fumbles, obviously).

— Georgia Southern lost its starting quarterback on its second offensive play.  GSU completed no passes in the game and did not really dominate on the ground, either (4.0 yards per rush).  Yet it still won.  On the road.  By 20 points.

— GSU and The Citadel combined to complete seven passes, three to offensive players and four to defensive players.  It was the first time I had ever seen a game, either in person or on television, where the defensive units for the two teams caught more passes than the offensive units.

— After a game in which The Citadel completed no passes (against Appalachian State), it played a game in which its opponent completed no passes.  I guess that’s like a team getting no-hit in baseball one day, then throwing a no-hitter the next day, but losing both games.

— As Jeff Hartsell pointed out, it was the first time a Bulldog opponent had failed to complete a pass since 1973.  The opposition that day was William & Mary.  That game was also at Johnson Hagood Stadium, and The Citadel lost it, too (24-12). That Bulldog squad finished the year 3-8, by the way, in Bobby Ross’ first season at The Citadel.

— The Citadel fumbled away the ball on its first three offensive possessions.  In seven first-half possessions, the Bulldogs turned the ball over five times and punted twice (three-and-outs on both those drives).

— The second half wasn’t much better, consisting of four turnovers, one punt, and failing on a fourth-down play.

— Thanks to all the turnovers, Georgia Southern’s average starting field position was The Citadel’s 40-yard line.

— The Citadel committed more turnovers against GSU at Johnson Hagood Stadium on Saturday (nine) than the basketball team committed against GSU in McAlister Field House last season (eight).

The Citadel is now in last place in all of FCS in the following categories:  fumbles lost (19, five more than the next-worst team), offensive passing yardage per game, and offensive passing efficiency.  The Bulldogs are in a three-way tie for having committed the most turnovers (27).

I went back and looked at the turnover numbers during Charlie Taaffe’s first season as head coach (1987).  The Bulldogs committed 31 turnovers that year in 11 games; 19 fumbles and 12 interceptions.  The most lost fumbles in one game that season? Four, against Army.  The season high for turnovers in one game that year was five, against Furman.

On the other hand, that team was much more productive on offense, including passing yardage (114 passing ypg. in 1987, 50 this season), total yards (363 to 274), and scoring offense (20.7 to 16.9).  The 1987 team also had a time of possession advantage over its opponents of just over eight minutes; the 2010 Bulldogs to date have a TOP edge of just over four minutes.

One other thing I’ll say that I can’t prove with statistics.  I believe (from memory) that the 1987 team’s lost fumbles were more spread out in terms of different types.  In other words, there were fumbles on bad/dropped pitches, fumbles where the ballcarrier was hit hard and fumbled, “mesh” fumbles, QB/center exchange issues, etc.

Most of the 2010 fumbles are QB/center exchange problems and “mesh” errors.  I have to say that in all honesty, the Bulldogs haven’t managed to get outside enough to have a lot of fumbles on pitch plays (although they have had a few).

Kevin Higgins, from his Monday presser:

“As we analyze each of the nine turnovers, something different happens in each of them, but the one common denominator in all of the fumbles was that a freshman player was involved. That’s not an excuse, but the young guys need to grow up and learn how to do the right thing with the football.”

Okay, so freshmen were “involved” in all nine turnovers.  That might be something to use as a crutch if this had been the first or second game of the season, but it wasn’t. It was the eighth game of the season.  Those guys are all now closer to being sophomores in terms of game experience than freshmen.

Nine turnovers in a spring game would be eye-raising.  Nine turnovers on October 23 is just embarrassing.

The defense played well.  The fact that the final score was “only” 20-0 is a credit to that unit.  I won’t say it was an A+ effort from the D; I would have liked to have seen more forced turnovers, particularly with the backup QB in the game for the Eagles, but it’s also true that GSU employed a fairly conservative game plan on offense for the most part (and why not).

The one time the Bulldog defense had a chance to swing momentum in the game, it did just that, after GSU coach Jeff Monken unaccountably started channeling Wade Phillips late in the first half.  Brandon McCladdie intercepted an ill-advised pass (ill-advised in both strategy and execution), and suddenly The Citadel had the ball in Eagle territory with under a minute to play in the half.

However, on the next play The Citadel gave Georgia Southern the ball right back, returning the Eagles’ interception with one of its own, and that was that.

One other thing from that game:  Greg Adams is apparently okay after a vicious, and illegal, hit by a GSU player who struck the defenseless Adams as he was preparing to return a punt.  I’m glad Adams is all right, but I also think the play warranted a suspension for the offender from the Southern Conference.  As it was, the player wasn’t even ejected from the game.

There are more things to discuss, related not just to this game but the season in general and the state of the football program in particular.  I want to think about them for a few more days…I’ll discuss those issues in my preview of the Wofford game. The discussion may make up the bulk of that preview, actually.

Below are a few pictures I took during the game.  There isn’t anything special about any of them.  I would note that I didn’t think it was such a good idea for the team to wear all-navy on a warm day, but then I wouldn’t like the navy uniforms on any kind of day.

NCAA basketball bracket projection, 3/14/10 — noon

Everyone else posts their bracket projections, so I decided to post this here.  It’s probably not mistake-proof, and there are likely multiple rematch scenarios (including a potential Wake Forest-Purdue game in the 2nd round, although assuming either of those teams has another win left in them could be dangerous).

Thanks to the bubble being so soft, the last few in/out squads are really up in the air this year.  My last five for each category…

— Last five in:  California, Utah State, UTEP, Florida, Illinois (the Illini being the last in)
— Last five out:  Virginia Tech, Minnesota, Mississippi State, Seton Hall, William & Mary (the Hokies being the first out)

I think both Minnesota and Mississippi State have to win today to get a bid.  That’s particularly true for the Bulldogs, in my view; Minnesota may just have to “look good” against Ohio State to pass Illinois.  Of course, the Illini lost in double overtime to the Buckeyes yesterday, so the proverbial “eye test” didn’t hurt them, either.

If Illinois was ahead of Minnesota prior to the Big 10 tournament, I’m not sure what exactly has led to Minnesota moving ahead of the Illini on the S-curve.  Illinois beat Wisconsin and lost that 2OT thriller to OSU.  Minnesota beat a hapless Penn State, Michigan State in OT, and then a decimated Purdue squad.  I’m not sure there is much to differentiate between those performances.

Speaking of Purdue, I have no idea how the committee will seed the Boilermakers. (Right now the committee may not know either.)  I seeded them as a 4, but would not be surprised at anything from a 2 to a 7.

One reason I kept Purdue on the 4 line is that several other teams with a shot at a protected seed failed to produce in their respective conference tournaments. Wisconsin, Michigan State, Texas A&M, and Maryland all lost in league quarterfinals. BYU went down in the Mountain West semis.  I couldn’t quite pull the trigger on Butler for a 4 seed, although I thought about it, and I suspect the committee will too.

I think Temple could be playing for a 3 seed today in the Atlantic 10 final, and may also be playing for a spot in the Providence sub-regional.  The Owls are competing with Pittsburgh and Villanova for one of two protected seed spots in that pod (Georgetown will get the other).  I have Pitt getting it right now.

After some debate, I kept Duke as the 1 seed in the West and West Virginia as the 2 in that region.  A loss by Duke today in the ACC final would result in those two teams flipping seeds.  Ohio State isn’t going to get enough of a bump by beating Minnesota to get to the 1 line, especially with the late start today for the Big 10 final.

Anyway, my current bracket projection (Midwest vs. West and South vs. East in the national semifinals):

Midwest

Oklahoma City

1-Kansas 16-Robert Morris

8-Marquette 9-Florida State

Spokane

5-Butler 12-Wake Forest

4-Purdue 13-Oakland

Jacksonville

3-Tennessee 14-Houston

6-Xavier 11-Missouri

Providence

7-UNLV 10-Cornell

2-Georgetown 15-Morgan State

West

Jacksonville

1-Duke 16-East Tennessee State

8-Notre Dame 9-Oklahoma State

Spokane

5-Michigan State 12-UTEP

4-Vanderbilt 13-Murray State

New Orleans

3-Baylor 14-Montana

6-Richmond 11-California

Buffalo

7-Old Dominion 10-San Diego State

2-West Virginia 15-Ohio

South

Buffalo

1-Syracuse 16-Lehigh

8-Texas 9-Siena

San Jose

5-Maryland 12-Illinois

4-New Mexico 13-Wofford

New Orleans

3-Temple 14-Vermont

6-Texas A&M 11-Utah State

Milwaukee

7-St. Mary’s 10-Louisville

2-Ohio State 15-UCSB

East

Milwaukee

1-Kentucky 16-PIG (Winthrop/Arkansas-Pine Bluff)

8-Northern Iowa 9-Clemson

San Jose

5-Wisconsin 12-Washington

4-Villanova 13-New Mexico State

Providence

3-Pittsburgh 14-Sam Houston State

6-Brigham Young 11-Florida

Oklahoma City

7-Gonzaga 10-Georgia Tech

2-Kansas State 15-North Texas

Longest droughts: schools that have never made the NCAA tournament

Updated: The 2016 edition

Now updated: the 2015 edition

Editor’s note:  this post is from 2010. For the 2014 update, click here.

For the 2013 update, click here.

For a 2012 update, click here. For the 2011 review, click here.

It’s almost time for the conference tournament season, and almost every year a school will celebrate its very first bid to the NCAA tournament.  Announcers will gush as the students rush the court following a dramatic victory in a league tourney final.  “They’re dancing!” is the cry.

Of course, most of the time the school in question has only been in Division I for a few years after enjoying success in Division II or the NAIA.  Occasionally the team is supplemented, if not dominated, by sketchy transfers or refugees from a local work-release center.  It doesn’t matter, though — it’s in the field of 65.  The school becomes part of the madness of March, and its supporters will cheer wildly (often televised from a local sports bar) when its name is called by James Brown on Selection Sunday.

However, every now and then a school that has spent decades in the Division I wilderness, searching in vain for the road to the tourney, finds its way out of the woods and into the promised land.  Two seasons ago it happened to American University, which had just missed in several Patriot League tourney title games before finally punching its ticket with a 52-46 victory over Colgate.  AU had been in Division I since 1967.

Another school that had a long wait end in 2008 was UT-Arlington.  The Mavericks had been members of Division I since 1969, but had never made the NCAAs until winning the Southland tournament that season (as the 7 seed in the league tourney).

These are the schools I (usually) root for come tourney time, to get that proverbial monkey off their back.  They are the 20 schools that have been in Division I the longest without making a single appearance in the NCAA tournament.  To keep what follows in perspective, just remember that George Mason University, which made the Final Four a few years ago, didn’t even exist until 1972.

“The Forgotten Five”

The NCAA’s modern classification into what we now call Division I occurred in 1948, although the hoops tourney started in 1939.  The five schools that have been in D-1 since ’48 were all technically eligible to be selected to the NCAAs since that first 1939 tourney.  Of course, it was only an 8-team tourney in those years.

Tangent:  maybe it was only an 8-team field in those days, but none other than Harvard got a bid in 1946 (losing both its tourney opener and a consolation game). Thus, Harvard has been to the NCAA tourney despite having never won the Ivy League (which has officially only been around since 1954).

The class of 1948:

  • Army:  I didn’t know this until last year, but the Black Knights actually could have gone to the NCAA tournament in the 1960s.  According to Bob Knight (in a TV interview) Army turned down an NCAA invite to instead play in the NIT, with a chance to compete at Madison Square Garden.

Another tangent:  The last school to turn down an NCAA bid was Marquette (in 1970), a decision made by the late, great Al McGuire.  McGuire was annoyed that his team (ranked 8th nationally) was going to have to travel further than he thought was right for a top 10 squad, so he thumbed his nose at the NCAA brass and accepted an NIT bid (Marquette would win that tournament).  Schools are no longer allowed to decline NCAA bids to play in the NIT.

  • Northwestern:  The Wildcats are the only school in a “power conference” to never make the tournament.  The school hosted the first NCAA tourney in 1939.
  • St. Francis of New York:  This school is not to be confused with St. Francis of Pennsylvania, fellow member of the Northeast Conference, which actually made the tournament in 1991 (and had to win a play-in game to do so).  The Terriers, on the other hand, made three NIT appearances from 1956 to 1963, but have never been particularly close to an NCAA berth, at least from what I have been able to determine.  There isn’t a great deal of SFC hoops history readily available online.  The Terriers may be the most forgotten of the Forgotten Five.
  • William and Mary:  The Tribe did make the NIT in 1983.  Thomas Jefferson and Jon Stewart demand more success than that, though.
  • The Citadel:  I wrote about the school’s painful hoops history in November of 2008.  Since I wrote that manifesto, the team has won more games over a two-season stretch than at any other time in the Bulldogs’ history.  Karma?

The chances of any of these schools making it this year are not particularly good. Northwestern, William and Mary, and Army all got off to good starts, but have faded down the stretch (the Tribe’s 16-point loss to Iona in a Bracketbusters game probably eliminating W&M from at-large consideration).  To get a bid, it’s likely that only a league tournament title (and the automatic bid that goes with it) will do.

At this point, The Citadel might have the best shot, as it will be very difficult for Northwestern and/or William & Mary to win their respective conference tourneys (I think it’s fair to say that winning the Big 10/CAA tourneys is harder than winning the SoCon crown).  The Bulldogs, while currently playing good basketball, will probably have to win four SoCon tourney games in four days, however.  Considering the school has only won two consecutive SoCon tourney games once in its entire history, that may be too tall an order.

As for Army and St. Francis of New York, both are currently in 8th place in their respective conferences, which does not exactly scream “potential tourney run”, especially for Army, since there are only eight teams in the Patriot League.

Other schools who have had to hold their tickets for too long (records listed are as of Feb. 20):

  • Centenary (D-1 member since 1960):  Well, the Gentlemen only have two more years to make the NCAAs (including this one), since the school is moving to Division III after the 2011 season.  Robert Parish’s alma mater would have to win the Summit League tourney.  Currently Centenary is in next-to-last place in the conference and has lost 19 games.
  • New Hampshire (class of 1962):  A case could be made that the Wildcats have been the worst D-1 program since joining the division.  Entering the 2009-10 campaign, the Wildcats’ all-time school record (including the years before joining D-1) is 817-1327 (38%).  New Hampshire’s record in America East play entering this season was 142-299.  Yikes.  At any rate, it doesn’t look like UNH (currently seventh in the America East with an overall record of 10-15) will break through this year.
  • Maine (class of 1962):  Now here is a promising team to watch.  Like New Hampshire, Maine is a member of the America East conference.  Unlike UNH, though, Maine is having a solid season, third in the league, and with an overall record of 17-9.  Keep a close eye on the Black Bears, which may have their best shot at making the field since 1994, when Maine lost in the conference final to Drexel.
  • Denver:  The Pioneers were in D-1 in its initial incarnation in 1948, left the classification in 1980, and then returned to D-1 in 1999.  Denver (one of several hockey-first schools on this list) is a middling Sun Belt team this year (8-7 in league play, 15-11 overall).  It wouldn’t be a complete shock to see the Pioneers make a SB tourney run, though.
  • UT-Pan American (class of 1969):  The Broncs currently compete as members of the Great West conference, a league that doesn’t send an automatic qualifier to the NCAAs.  With a current record of 4-23, I’m guessing UTPA is not in line for an at-large bid.
  • Stetson (class of 1972):  The Hatters reside in the Atlantic Sun basement right now, tied with Florida Gulf Coast in league play (if you’ve never heard of Florida Gulf Coast before, don’t feel bad — DePaul never had either). Stetson has an overall record of 6-21. This isn’t going to be the year.
  • UC Irvine (class of 1978):  Like a lot of these schools, the Anteaters are at the bottom of their league standings, tied for last in the Big West with UC Riverside.  It’s not going to be their year either.
  • Grambling State (class of 1978):  You would think a school with a football tradition as grand as Grambling’s could parlay that into an occasionally good hoops team, but no.  This season is no different, as the Tigers are only 6-15 entering weekend play.  Of course, being in the SWAC means that a team with a 6-15 overall record can’t be completely ruled out as far as winning the league tourney is concerned.
  • Maryland-Eastern Shore:  The Hawks joined D-1 in 1974, but left after just two years, and then returned in 1982.  This season UMES is 6-6 in MEAC play but only 8-18 overall.  I don’t see the Hawks getting past Delaware State or South Carolina State in the MEAC tourney, much less Todd Bozeman’s Morgan State club.
  • Youngstown State:  The Penguins were D-1 in 1948, but then dropped down and didn’t return to the division until 1982.  Jim Tressel won multiple I-AA football titles while in Youngstown, but the hoops squad hasn’t been as successful, and this year is no different.  YSU is tied for last in the Horizon League with Illinois-Chicago (the Flames have been extinguished) and has an overall record of 8-18.
  • Bethune-Cookman (class of 1981):  B-C is actually tied with UMES in the MEAC standings right now, but at 14-12 may be a better team.  I wouldn’t give the Wildcats much more of a shot of winning the league tourney, though.  Maybe they need to bring Cy McClairen back.
  • Western Illinois (class of 1982):  The Leathernecks are currently third-from-last in the Summit League, one place above Centenary.  It’s hard to see WIU making much of a run in that conference tourney.
  • Chicago State (class of 1985):  Like Texas-Pan American, Chicago State is a member of the Great West.  Like UTPA, Chicago State has no chance to make the NCAAs in the foreseeable future.
  • Hartford (class of 1985):  The Hawks, whose most notable hoops alum is Vin Baker, missed a chance to make the NCAAs when they lost in the America East finals two seasons ago to UMBC.  At 8-19 this season, the odds are not in Hartford’s favor.
  • Buffalo:  the Bulls moved up to D-1 in 1974, left D-1 in 1977, then rejoined the classification in 1992.  Buffalo has come closer than any other school on this list to breaking through in recent years, losing in the MAC title game last season and in 2005 (the latter an excruciating 80-79 loss in overtime).  The Bulls are currently 15-9.  It wouldn’t be that surprising to see them in the conference championship game again.

So there you have it.  Those are the 20 schools that have waited the longest for an NCAA bid.  Will one of them break through this year?  Maine and Buffalo look like the best bets, but you wouldn’t really want to place a wager on any of them.

It would be great if one did, though.  I think back to that American victory in 2008, and the sight of Eagles head coach Jeff Jones crying in his sideline chair.  He knew the difficulty of what his team had accomplished.  I felt so good for him and for the long-suffering AU fans.

Incidentally, that difficulty of accomplishment is just another reason why expanding the tournament would be such a mistake.  It wouldn’t mean nearly as much if it were easier to gain entry into the field.  For myself, I’m not interested in The Citadel being part of a diluted field.  Like the fans and players of all the schools still waiting for their moment, I want to enjoy the real thing.

It would be nice to enjoy it sooner rather than later…

The NCAA wants to ruin its own basketball tournament

This is a little late…okay, more than a little.  It’s the holiday season, after all.  I was busy.

You may have heard that the NCAA is considering expanding the D-1 hoops tourney to 96 teams.  The particulars:

[The NCAA] is gauging the feasibility of moving the tournament from broadcast to cable…as it decides whether to exercise an escape clause in its 11-year, $6 billion deal with CBS, the NCAA’s longtime partner…

…the NCAA has the ability to opt out [of the deal] at the close of the 2010 Final Four. One source said this is just the beginning of a process that will conclude in summer  2010, at the earliest…

…the NCAA is not committed to making any changes. It also is talking with TV networks about whether they are interested in the tournament as is. The NCAA’s current deal with CBS is heavily backloaded. More than a third of the total value — $2.13 billion — is due to the NCAA in the final three years.

But the potential expansion of the NCAA tournament has support in collegiate circles, particularly from college basketball coaches. The idea talked about with TV networks would likely take it from its current field of 65 teams to 96 teams and add another week to the competition, with the top 32 teams receiving byes. The move has been characterized as folding the NIT into the NCAA tournament.

The NCAA clearly expects that the added week of games would significantly increase the tournament’s rights fee.

If you’re wondering why college basketball coaches favor expanding the tournament, it’s about job security, primarily for major college coaches.  Now, you might think that coaches who make six figures per annum (or more) might deserve being under a bit of pressure for that kind of dough (and all the other perks that go with the job).  The coaches, though, have a different idea.

Those poor major college coaches do have it rough.  There are 72 schools in the six BCS conferences.  Of those 72, only 36 made the NCAA tournament last season.  Just 50%.  Why, there wasn’t room for 16-14 Georgetown, or 18-14 Virginia Tech, or 17-15 Washington State!  Expanding the field to 96 would surely correct those injustices.

The writer of this article in The Wall Street Journal favors expansion.  As he puts it:

Expansion would, in no particular order, give more quality teams a chance to prove themselves and fix the shamefully low percentage of bids given to lesser-known “mid-major” teams. It might also create enough of a supply of games to allow a portion of the tournament to be shown on cable (at the moment, fans can’t see every game in its entirety because CBS—the rights holder—doesn’t broadcast every game nationally).

Most important of all, adding an extra round or stage to the tournament would mean an extra helping of what fans love most about the event: the early rounds, the unpredictable festival of games that go on all day and create wild excitement all across the country.

Give more quality teams a chance to prove themselves?  Isn’t that what the regular season is supposed to be about?

The problem with his argument about expansion aiding mid-major teams is in his next sentence.  The object of this exercise is for the NCAA to extract as much money as it can from ESPN and/or CBS (or maybe Fox; after all, Chris Rose needs work).  Let’s get serious here — ESPN isn’t going to give the NCAA a zillion dollars to televise first-round matchups between Illinois State-Niagara, or Duquesne-Tulsa.

His basic idea (which mirrors Coach K’s thoughts in the earlier link) is that a 96-team field would envelop and replace the NIT, which is now owned by the NCAA and doesn’t make nearly enough money to satisfy that organization.  As a practical matter, though, it would not and could not.

For one thing, three of the teams in last season’s NIT (Jacksonville, UT-Martin, and Weber State) were regular season champions of smaller conferences that would not be given at-large bids to an expanded tournament.  Several other schools invited to the NIT would also be questionable candidates for NCAA at-large bids, including several of the C-USA squads and Duquesne, which was only 9-7 in Atlantic 10 play.

If you expanded the field to 96, last season at least 51 of the 72 BCS schools would have made the field, and as a practical matter probably five or six more would have also (Vanderbilt for UT-Martin, Seton Hall for Jacksonville, etc.).  That would mean that over 75% of all major conference schools would have received bids last season.

Do we really need that many of those power league teams in the tournament?  Georgetown (to name just one example) lost 12 league games in the Big East (counting its first-round conference tourney loss to St. John’s).  I would suggest that the Hoyas conclusively proved that they had no business playing in the NCAAs.

Another thing is that the near-monopolization by the major conference outfits would only get worse, as once the tournament expands, you can expect a different approach to scheduling in the power leagues.  Schools would know that just approaching .500 in league play would be enough to get a bid as long as the overall record was a winning one.

It wouldn’t be a total wipeout of interesting non-conference games (ESPN has to televise something in November and December, after all).  It would, however, resemble what we’re starting to see in FBS football, which is a paucity of quality non-conference games.

Once that scheduling strategy came to the fore, you would start to see even more of the major conference schools grab at-large bids, to the point where the percentage of at-large bids in a 96-team field would be the same as it is now for the 65-team field.  Last season that number was 88%.

If that percentage held for a 96-team event, then 63 of the 72 BCS teams would get in the NCAAs.  Basically, just the one or two worst teams in each of the six BCS leagues would be left out.  Every BCS school would fully expect to make the tournament every season (well, maybe not DePaul).

Another thing that would happen is that the major conference tournaments would be completely devalued.  I suppose they might affect seeding, but that’s about it.  Even a game on opening day in the ACC or Big XII, for instance, between an 8 and 9 seed wouldn’t matter much.

I am surprised that people like Doug Elgin (MVC commissioner and now a proponent of expansion) are not concerned about how this thing might ultimately evolve.  If the idea is that maybe the mid-major leagues might get a few extra at-large bids, sure they might — but they will find that eventually their place in the tournament as a whole will be further marginalized.

Of course, the mid-majors will still be in better shape than the low-majors, who will be even less of a factor in an expanded field.  For example, 90% of the time the Southern Conference will only have one team in the tournament, the automatic qualifier.  The league has never had more than one team in the field in its history, and hasn’t had a school receive an at-large bid since 1950 (North Carolina State).

There have only been a tiny handful of SoCon schools over the years left out of the 64-team bracket that might have snagged an at-large bid in a 96-team tourney.  Davidson may have received one last season, and the Wildcats might have had a chance in 1996, too.  From a small-school perspective, does that justify the diluting of the tournament?  No.

Besides, the event is already open to nearly every school in Division I.  As pointed out in this article from last season, only 47 of the 344 schools competing in Division I did not have a chance to advance to the NCAAs from conference tournaments (and several of those were schools like Presbyterian, ineligible for the big tourney because they were transitioning to Division I).

Everyone has a shot — The Citadel, William & Mary, St. Francis of New York, Army, Northwestern — everybody.

I think an expansion to the tournament would ruin the event, which is almost perfect as it now stands.  The only true flaw in the current bracket is the dreadful play-in game; the tourney would be better served to have 64 teams instead of 65, and do so by eliminating one at-large berth.

If you expanded to 96 (and then 128, which I suspect would become inevitable), just making the tourney would lose a great deal of its value.  I would like very much someday to see people filling out a bracket with The Citadel on it, even if those people weren’t picking the Bulldogs (which would be a mistake — if The Citadel ever makes the field, I guarantee we’re taking out a high seed in the first round).

However, with 96 teams what would probably happen is that all the major bracket contests you see would start after the first weekend cull from 96 to 64.  It’s like having 32 play-in games instead of one.

I’m not arguing against expanding the field just because of bracket pools.  I’m arguing against it because it is (almost) perfect the way it is now, and expanding it would signicantly lessen its charm, particularly with regards to the schools that don’t see their name in lights all that often.

I have no doubt the NCAA will decide to expand…